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21 June 2013

To achieve anything in this game you must be prepare to dabble in the boundary of disaster. – Sterling Moss

As someone who has spent most of my waking moments contemplating my next automotive adventure I have to wholeheartedly admit that I was indeed, not seeking out a Tristar Syncro.

In 2004 I was newly-married and after growing up and spending most of my life on the East Coast had decided to relocate to Arizona and as of spring 2006 was awaiting the birth of my son. I had brought with me my 1981 Scirocco S that was featured as a project car a few years back and had also purchased and restored a 1992 Corrado SLC that I subsequently sold to a local enthusiast here in Phoenix. I was busy spending my time and energy getting ready for the baby to come and starting a new job with a new company when I received a call from a contact from my former life on the East Coast telling me about four vehicles that had become available through an importer in British Columbia. The story went that the seller was preparing them for sale in Canada but had to leave to go back to Europe to close a deal on a house that he was purchasing there. The offer was for me to buy any or all of the four vehicles depending upon my aspirations.

So here is where I violated one of my many cardinal rules of buying used– never purchase a used car sight-unseen. Prior to this moment I had mis-spent about 15 years of my life buying, repairing and selling used cars to pay for my college education and subsequently though my early 30’s and dodged many a bullet by walking away from what seemed to be a deal that looked really good on paper. In this case I opted to throw the long ball; I decided to purchase all four of the cars and transport three of them to Phoenix and send one back to the East Coast.

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The four cars were all interesting ones with reasonable amounts of enthusiast cache: a 1989 Lancia Delta Integrale Rallye 8v, a 1989 Rallye Golf, and two 1989 Volkswagon Syncro Tristars. The trio of cars bound for Phoenix landed in the late spring of 2006 just as my son was being born and the Lancia made its’ way to Baltimore to sit broken in a barn until 2011 when I found a buyer for it in Washington State. The Rallye Golf was immediately sold to an enthusiast here in Phoenix and the one Tristar Syncro sold in six months to a gentleman in Northern Utah.

So lets go back to 2006 for a minute. The three vehicles bound for Phoenix arrived and a few things were evident the moment that they were loaded off of the transport truck; all three of them were not as good as were described and all were going to need some cosmetic refurbishing as a bare minimum to make them suitable for sale. Fortunately the Rallye Golf went to a great home the moment its’ tires touched the pavement in Phoenix and it is an ongoing project for a young guy named Dan Ballard who has done a great job with it so far. The first Tristar Syncro was in good shape on the outside and featured a Peugeot turbo diesel engine swap that ran pretty well but needed some tuning and general cleaning to make it presentable. Both of these trucks had their origins in Switzerland but were purchased out of Austria and had been work trucks their entire lives which meant that their interiors were filthy with dirt in the seats and carpets, ashtrays full of cigarette butts and were smelly and just generally in need of attention. I spent about a month of weekends servicing this one along with shipping it down to my house to pull apart the entire interior to do a complete cleaning as well as spending some money with a local detailer to get the exterior back in shape.

The second Tristar Syncro (the one that is the subject of this project series) was in far worse shape. The exterior was faded and corroded and the body was rusty in all of the places where these Puch-converted trucks tend to rust. The engine ran well enough but it leaked oil profusely from its’ heads and it immediately needed a clutch. The interior was in awful shape and most of the seats had seam splits and was generally in horrible shape from the carpets to the headliner. The upside to this truck was that it was here and was basically solid and everything worked. We immediately set to work to replace the clutch, do a basic servicing to all of the fluids, replaced the master cylinder on the brakes, replaced the radiator and replaced the valve cover gaskets. Once completed it drove very well and served as a general shop hauler at my friends shop for a few months while I advertised it on VWVortex and on thesamba.com to see if I could find it a new home.

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As you can imagine this sort of effort takes some time to accomplish between a 60 hour per week job, commuting and a new baby. As 2007 rolled forward into the subsequent new year wrought with a failing economy and a depressed market my prospect of selling this funny truck grew weaker and weaker as the months rolled by. As time slowly passed into 2008 the interest in the truck started to wane and I started to see a certain sense of desperation in the specialty car market emerge as many people sought to turn their prized possessions into cash by selling them for a fraction of their worth during the boom. I withdrew the truck for sale in April of 2008 nearly 24 months after it came into my life and sat back to contemplate what my next steps would be.

Fortunately for me I have a supportive spouse and the resources locally to begin the process of restoring the truck and since every system would need to be refurbished this Tristar Syncro represented a blank canvas. The other upside would be that I had quite a few local resources that could use some extra business by being involved in the project during this relatively difficult time. My goal with this project has been to both refurbish this truck to its’ former glory. Along the way I also intend to increase the capabilities and performance and modernize it without making it less reliable in the process.

So with a long road ahead and a lengthy list of expensive parts to purchase I press forward, eager to get this truck back on the road. Fortunately for all of us involved as of June, this project is well along the road to completion so that there will be no major gaps in the article delivery to you our fair readers.
Onwards and upwards we go!

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